When Harley Davidson offered me the chance to come out to their Juneau Avenue factory and review the Harley Davidson Dark Custom Blackline, I had no idea I’d end up riding the bike through the bike’s hometown during the busy biker month of September.
As Fall approaches in midwest biker hotbeds like Milwaukee and Sturgis, the locals start stacking up the events to suck every last bit of summer out of the calendar before snow and ice make motorcycling uncomfortable and dangerous. So rallies and organized rides abound in such cities to bring riders together before Halloween and Thanksgiving order them to put their motorcycles up on blocks for winter.
To best explore the autumnal motorcycle culture, Harley-Davidson HQ set me with the Blackline for a couple of days. Introduced for 2011 and already a highlight of the Harley-Davidson line, the new Softtail features a Twin Cam 96B V-Twin engine driving a lower set, sleeker profile than most traditional cruisers.
The first attributes to strike the rider are the smoother rear end with its sloping tail and the narrow, wire spoked front tire – giving the motorcycle a throwback look. The sloping, five gallon fuel tank centers the bike, with all instruments removed from it and moved forward to handlebar mounts.
But that thinned-out styling doesn’t feel as though its sliced weight away from this heavy cruiser. This is still a heavy, powerful motorcycle. Secure at speed with its low center of gravity and aggressive rider position, it’s ideal for comfortable street and freeway riding. Its weight and length limits the Blackline’s overall maneuverability, so you’ll give thanks for that narrow, lighter front wheel. Bottom line: The Blackline is too heavy and too powerful to serve as a beginner’s or entry level bike. At $15,499, it’s not priced as one of Harley-Davidson’s entry level bikes, either.
Quibbles over weight aside, the Blackline is a pleasure to ride and an eye catcher in traffic – making it perfect conveyance through Milwaukee’s September biker faire. From Harley-Davidson HQ on Juneau, I headed through downtown to the near east side and the Fuel Cafe. At first glance, the hipster coffee house seems an unlikely destination for bikers, but the row of assorted motorcycles parked out front confirmed it had been adopted by the younger members of the city’s two-wheeled culture.
That should be good news for Harley-Davidson as the Dark Custom line (including the Blackline) is aimed smack at younger riders just entering or looking to move up in the motorcycle market. As the company evolves into the 21st Century, it’s working hard to foster interest in its cruising line in younger riders.
From Fuel, I headed to the Milwaukee Harley-Davidson dealership’s 2011 Rally on the city’s far northwest side. Owner Chaz Hastings transforms the showroom floor and surrounding grounds into the Midwest’s largest motorcycle rally.
In fact, a Labor Day Weekend in MIlwaukee sees the city transformed into one massive rally spreading across the city’s dealerships, the Wisconsin State Fair Park and Water Street bars and restaurants.
On this day, Milwaukee Harley-Davidson added a Jack Daniel’s Whiskey Class & Tasting to the line up. Not only was I riding that day, but I was riding a corporate owned motorcycle, so I demurred. But, a certified Jack Daniel’s “professor” flew in from Tennessee to teach proper mixology.
Suffice to say, Harley-Davidson Corporate must hold its nose and turn a blind eye to some of this rally business when it comes to mixing booze and related debauchery with motorcycles. Some of those bad boy bangs and whistles are inherent in the “Harley” image that keeps the motorcycle maker well-heeled. But, the company also wants to reach out to the recreational and sport riders who aren’t into the leather jacket and hip flask routine. On a ride through Milwaukee in September, you see those different cultures blend.
At the rally, the Blackline fit in just fine with the Nick Lee World Burnout Tour, a $2 million collection of cycles, equipment and custom machines. But when the wet t-shirt contests splashed onto the rally stage, the Blackline and I roared our way back across town to finish the ride at the iconic Harley-Davidson Museum blocks away from the downtown lakefront.
In addition to housing the history of Harley-Davidson’s motorcycles, the $75 million dollar complex acts as the city’s central hub for all of the city’s motorcycle-related activity. Rows of visitors’ motorcycles line up outside the complex while riders take their souvenir photos and stop for a bite at Motor Restaurant or Cafe Racer.
Even amidst the sea of motorcycles buzzing around the museum, the Dark Custom Blackline caught plenty of extra looks. And that’s the best review it could get on a September in Milwaukee.
Photo credit – Harley-Davidson